Tuesday, September 04, 2007

U.S. Lashing Out at Everybody These Days

First there was Fred Kagan on the BBC's HardTalk, claiming that a British pullout would do grave damage to the "special relationship". Ok, fine, he's an AEI flack, they're expected to say such things.

What I hadn't expected, though, is getting the spectacle of Kurt Campbell and Michael Green doing much the same thing. They attacked Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa over his anti-counterterrorism bill stance, and they're making pretty odd noises:

It appears that Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) leader Ichiro Ozawa is determined to force a crisis with the government over the counterterrorism bill. This comes as a disappointment to those Americans who remember him as a stalwart defender of the U.S.-Japan alliance from his days as deputy chief Cabinet secretary almost two decades ago.

However, it does not come as a surprise to those who know his single-minded determination to deal a body blow to the Liberal Democratic Party today. We are told that Ozawa has decided that any political damage done to U.S.-Japan relationship will be forgotten in a few years when there could be a Democratic administration in Washington and--he hopes--in Japan, too. We fear that assumption is flawed and hope Ozawa will reconsider his stance and find a creative and workable compromise with the government. It will not be as easy to recover the reputations of Minshuto and Japan as Ozawa may think.

Many in Minshuto believe that pulling Maritime Self Defense Force ships out of the coalition will only do damage to the "Bush-Abe" relationship. After all, both leaders are under assault at home and the Iraq war is polarizing American public opinion. However, the bill that Ozawa wants to kill authorizes the deployment of ships for the effort in Afghanistan and has nothing to do with Iraq. And support for the effort in Afghanistan enjoys broad bipartisan support in the United States.

If Japan pulls out suddenly from the coalition against the Taliban and al-Qaida, this will lead to inevitable and unfortunate questions for the next administration--whether Republican or Democrat--about Japan's reliability as an ally.
Bolding? Mine. Rather incredible, isn't it? Michael Green is hardly a paradigmatic neo-con, and Kurt Campbell was a Clinton administration official. These aren't generally the types that you'd normally expect to be making these sorts of ominous pronouncements.

Would a Minshuto prime minister be able to say that Japan stands firmly with those countries in the war on terror? Would they be able to make the claim that Japan is ready to play a larger role in the international community? And how does Japan's ambassador to the United Nations explain that Japan is ready to take the leadership responsibilities of a permanent U.N. Security Council member the day after the counterterrorism law is killed and Japanese ships pull out of the coalition effort?
Er, yeah. For those who aren't able to read between gigantic lines, the answer here is "no, so go along with America or SUFFER". Again, not what you'd expect.

Here's the thing: they do have a point, to a certain extent. Japan took a heavy hit for not getting involved in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and Ozawa was very much frustrated by that. What these guys forget is that the UN rather explicitly authorized the first Gulf War, and rather explicitly didn't authorize Iraq, which hangs over Afghanistan like a particularly nasty smog cloud. To claim that anything the United States does right now is totally independent of Iraq is shockingly naive; to claim it of Afghanistan is just stupid. Ozawa is a stickler over the UN's role in collective security, so it's not actually any big surprise that he'd claim that "the U.S.-led operation has not been directly authorized by the U.N. Security Council, unlike the ISAF, or the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan...[and] therefore thinks [that] Japan should not cooperate." That would actually strengthen the case for Japan as a permanent security council member- it demonstrates a commitment to the body that several other permanent members don't share, including the United States itself.

The bigger problem with drawing this comparison, though, is that the United States' foreign policy is hideously unpopular in the world right now, and thus going against it is unlikely to harm Japan as significantly as in 1991. Sure, it might lose Ozawa some friends in Washington, but I doubt it'd hurt much in Paris, Frankfurt, or any other important global capitals.

Besides, at this point, Washington needs all the friends it can get. Saying "we'll shut you out" isn't a credible threat, guys. And, in the end, that's probably what actually motivates threatening polemics like this. Were the threat credible, it probably wouldn't even need to be made. As it is...

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